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In a way, the wet weather is fitting. Santa Anita remains in the center of a storm. No need to rehash every somber detail. Besides, Saturday offers a fresh start. And the season begins with wagering opportunity, including Grade 1 favorites that skeptics will fade.
Bellafina might be vulnerable in the La Brea. Omaha Beach will be undervalued in the Runhappy Malibu. There is plenty for handicappers to digest on opening day of a meet that begins in an uncertain environment.
Medication and safety reforms, potential rule revision regarding whips, track surface, and declining horse population are among the challenges facing Santa Anita and Craig Fravel, recently named CEO of racing operations by track owner The Stronach Group.
“Aside from continuing to reinforce what we’ve been working
on in terms of reforms, I think the biggest challenge is creating a better
sense of confidence in the future and keeping everybody working together,”
Fravel said. “Just have a path forward, not dwelling on the past
It would be nice if trainers stayed home. It is understandable many will not. Fravel said Santa Anita will “encourage people to be part of the program, and enjoy what a great place this is.” As for horse population, “We’re scheduled four days a week, we’re going to try to run to that. Hopefully, we have the inventory. If not, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go.”
One trainer noted, “We can’t have six-horse fields, three days a week, or people are going to bet other places.”
People are going to bet Santa Anita on Saturday. They will bet on or against Omaha Beach in his local farewell. His career ends next month in the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park.
Omaha Beach is 3 and already more valuable as a stallion than a racehorse. His stud fee will be $40,000. Many hoped he would continue to race next year at age 4.
“Me too,” trainer Richard Mandella cracked. “I should have gelded him.”
In the Malibu, race 9, Omaha Beach is not infallible. His lack of early speed finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile might have been an anomaly, but it is never good when a horse loses speed. Not necessarily bad, never good. Omaha Beach blew out last week in a sizzling 34 seconds, so the lack-of-speed concern might prove unfounded.
Complexity can win the Malibu. Grade 1 winner as a juvenile and highly rated last-out winner in New York, he has speed and upside. The parimutuel challenge is finding value in a five-horse field. It’s a sign of the times. This year’s Malibu drew the smallest field in at least 30 years. Other stakes drew bigger fields.
Gift Box seems a standout in the Grade 2 San Antonio, race 5, notwithstanding sharp Midcourt. After the San Antonio, Gift Box might leave town. To where?
“Hopefully we have choices,” trainer John Sadler said. “It’s a prep for the Pegasus, it could be a prep for Saudi, or just keep him on the program here, depending on how he does.”
The winter handicap program at Santa Anita is dwarfed by the $3 million Pegasus in January at Gulfstream, the $20 million Saudi Cup in February, and $12 million Dubai World Cup. California now runs mostly prep races.
In the Grade 1 American Oaks, race 6 at 1 1/4 miles on turf, distance-proven Vibrance will get first run over Lady Prancealot. Vibrance will be making her final local start, having been sold to Shadai Farm in Japan.
As for the La Brea, race 7, fair warning – five of the last eight La Breas included odds-on favorites that bit the dust – Dream Tree (2018), Taris (2014), Sweet Lulu (2013), My Miss Aurelia (2012), and Turbulent Descent (2011). Bellafina might not be odds-on, but she will be favored. She does not have to win.
Bellafina ran the race of her career last out, a 105-Beyer runner-up in the BC Filly and Mare Sprint. The fig was 10 points higher than her previous top. Bellafina is guaranteed to regress. It’s what a skeptic believes. Maybe what a fool believes.
Mother Mother can pop at a price in her comeback. She runs super fresh, has worked very well, and has tactical speed in a sprint with a tepid pace scenario. Trouble is Mother Mother lost to Bellafina all three times they met. The La Brea is a tough spot.
“There are no easy spots in California,” Mother Mother’s trainer Bob Baffert said.
Not during a wet holiday week. And not on a fast track Saturday, opening day at Santa Anita. It’s where Complexity faces Omaha Beach, and Mother Mother faces Bellafina.
If the upsets occur, perhaps the tone will be set for a successful season – with sunshine and dollar signs. First post, 11 a.m